Invited to support folk trio The Magpies, I performed at the Downend Folk Club in September. A wonderful night of live music in a beautiful church!
The folk club’s team captured two of my songs on video, and also wrote a review: “Maaike Siegerst is a Dutch singer songwriter (via Bristol, of course) with a capital S and capital W. Literate, clever songs packed with imagery made up her five song set. She has a glorious voice, perfectly suited to a bit of quality indie folk.”
My new single is a portrait of the UK’s most endangered mammal, the Scottish Wildcat.
Wildcats have been in Britain since the Iron Age, but now only few are left in Scotland. So few, that they’ll disappear without help.
I wrote this song when I visited the Cairngorms two years ago. A drawing of a wildcat in the snow sparked the song.
To help the wildcats, I’m donating all money from sales and streams to Saving Wildcats, a wildcat conservation charity. I think the work they’re doing is fantastic: breeding wildcats for release into the wild! It’s the help they need to survive. I’ve raised and donated £125 plus gift aid so far. Get the track on Bandcamp if you’d like to help!
The sound I was going for is inspired by Mike Oldfield – a melodic folk vibe with spotlights on the voice and electric guitar – combined with the fairy tale atmosphere of early Nightwish and Within Temptation (who, in turn, were inspired by Kate Bush).
For the arrangement, I had particular musicians in mind, and luckily, they all said yes when I asked them! On drums, you hear Ivar de Graaf, known for his work with Kingfisher Sky and Within Temptation. On lead guitar is my friend and former bandmate Bas Willemsen of Alarion. Susanna Downes performs her magic on the piano, and Jonni Slater mixed the track and played the synth. The track was mastered by Nick Cooke (who also works with Kate Rusby).
A true lockdown production, a lot of this came together remotely, working over the internet!
“Call Of The Last Wildcat is the latest genre-defying beauty from Bristol-based Maaike Siegerist. (…) Emotive, evocative, and skilful storytelling from a master of the craft.” – Fenris Music
“Very much in the modern folk idiom, it paints a musical picture of the wildcat – all you have to do is let your imagination run free. (…) an exceptional song” – Jelli Records
“The soothing guitar and piano melodies intertwine along with the artist’s spine-tingling vocal. This is like a poem set to music and it is sure to hit your soul hard. The track erupts into a glorious distorted guitar solo before the tranquil folk sounds return full circle.” – Curious for Music
Call of the Last Wildcat got played by Amazing Radio’s Jim Gellatly and BBC Radio Bristol, where Adam Crowther called it “a beautiful tribute to the Scottish Wildcat.” Dozens of other DJs and radio stations also played the song – thanks all!
For me, one highlight in these gloomy times is being part of an online songwriting group! We set songwriting challenges every Sunday, write and record a demo during the week, and share our songs in a massive online meeting on Saturday evening.
Last week’s task was to write a song using real-world sounds. I love big grandfather clocks, so I wrote a song with one! You can hear it here:
I sent Clockmaker to the BBC, and within days DJ Adam Crowther played it on his show Upload, on BBC Radio Bristol! He said: “Quite sinister-sounding, but beautiful nonetheless.”
The song will be available on a digital compilation album, in support of music venues in Glastonbury – they’ve supported my music in the past, so I wanted to do something back.
The cottage is empty when its owner greets Jonni Slater and me. ‘Becci’s just gone to get some groceries,’ he says. The air is crisp and the leaves are red and yellow.
We had visited glistening lochs and rugged mountains on the way up, in a rental car just big enough to fit a keyboard and a guitar in the trunk. Scotland’s natural beauty is stunning, and yes – it’s very wet at times.
We greet the other songwriters as they arrive. Some are old friends – we met at a (now almost legendary) songwriting camp six years ago, and play gigs together under the banner of ‘Fresh Tracks: Unknown Animal.’ Others are new friends.
After a home-cooked vegan meal, we play each other our songs, and we know we’re in good company.
We don’t make it a late one – there’s work to do in the morning, and the retreat’s driving force, the Glaswegian artist Becci Wallace, has caught laryngitis. (Although she resolutely refuses to be defeated by it.)
Day one, task one: individual songwriting
The next day, there’s music coming out of every room, even the BBQ hut in the garden. Somehow, we all manage to find a space to write.
Becci had brought historic letters, illustrations and photos to inspire us, but I already know what I want to write about: billionaires in space. Elon Musk in particular wants to colonise Mars. I like a bit of science fiction.
When I play my new creation ‘Moon and Mars’ for the other songwriters that evening, my hands are shaking. I’m so full of adrenaline. Flashbacks to my first gigs years ago. But they like it! (You can hear a bit below.)
Day two, cowriting
Every song you write together is a negotiation. Sometimes you create something that’s more than what either of you could have made individually. At other times, it’s too much of a compromise.
I work on one song with Becci, whose powerful voice has been reduced to a husky whisper, and blues rocker David Sinclair. We encourage Becci to whisper a rap over the bluesy chords, and I smuggle in some jazz tones. It’s a fun exercise.
There are guitars in the cot, in the room where Becci and I write a cheeky second song. It’s a response to all the beauty adverts we see on Facebook, and friends endlessly taking and filtering selfies.
I propose to use the word ‘armpit’ in the lyrics but Becci vetoes it. We have a good laugh and the song’s a keeper – ‘So You Think’!
Day three: gig time!
Birnam Arts Centre is packed as we’re on stage on the evening of the third day. We sit in a half circle as we play our new songs; I play both ‘Moon and Mars’ and ‘So You Think’. It’s less scary now than in the cottage!
We had started the day with a two-hour songwriting task. Jonni and I ran out of time but started something good. A romantic song in an apocalyptic setting. Thereafter, we had spent the afternoon rehearsing for the gig.
I’m really impressed by everyone’s songs and performances. The audience in Birnam agrees. We are invited back.
But enough talking about music – here’s a fragment of my new song ‘Moon and Mars’ – the one about the billionaires’ space race: